Las Vegas Summer League: 10 snapshot evaluations from the first two days
LAS VEGAS -- Anyone who has attended Summer League can attest to the event's ability to warp time. Watching four consecutive games back-to-back, day after day, simultaneously feels like a sprint and a marathon.
Eleven games are in the books after two days of play, and all five 2013 lottery picks have had the chance to get their feet wet. On Saturday, The Point Forward took a longer look at Bobcats forward Cody Zeller, the No. 4 pick in last month's draft. Below, a round-up of first impressions from notable picks and standouts from games played on Friday and Saturday.
Valanciunas, a top-five pick in 2011, is an easily forgotten man because he delayed his NBA arrival for a year and then missed 20 games last season. Here, he was the MVP of the first 48 hours, the only big man in the building who could be thrown into the same paragraph as Pistons center Andre Drummond, who had his way with the competition down in the Orlando Summer League.
Valanciunas finished with 23 points and seven rebounds in a loss to the Heat, doing much of his damage early on before Miami committed extra defenders to stop him. Most compelling was his comfort and command of the ball in face-up situations. Ready to uncork a pump fake and drive past the defender, Valanciunas didn't accidentally stumble into his 8-for-10 shooting night. He found ways to get to the rim repeatedly and he positioned himself well to accept passes in the basket area. On the other end, he made his presence known. He seemed to fatigue a bit as the game went on but his energy level going up and down the court in an open setting like this was impressive for a man with his size. Still just 21, he looks primed for a headline-generating breakout in the near future.
CJ McCollum, Blazers
The No. 10 pick in last month's draft turned in the best performance so far from a lottery pick here in Vegas. He scored 22 points and dished four assists in a loss to the Suns, turning in a 15-point first half that saw him score in multiple ways from various spots on the court. McCollum is a skilled ball-handler and shot-creator in one-on-one situations, but he didn't adapt well to Phoenix's pressure defense that came in waves during the second half. His teammates -- who collectively shot 30-for-69 -- didn't do him any favors either.
The four-year guard out of Lehigh looks best suited as a scoring two guard in a reserve role this year although he will likely share the court with Damian Lillard for stretches. His lack of size will be a problem on the defensive end against NBA two guards and there's no good way to hide him in small ball orientations. His scoring ability and shooting stroke, though, guarantee he will play meaningful minutes from Day One.
Well, I guess you can't call a guy "passive" if he shoots 23 times in his first Summer League game, right? The No. 7 pick in the 2013 draft put up an eye-popping box score line: 11 points, 4-for-23 shooting, 1-for-11 from deep, and zero assists. Critics who felt he disappeared too often in college definitely couldn't say that about his debut in Vegas. His presence was felt, for better and (mostly) worse, in Sacramento's down-to-the-wire loss to Dallas.
There's no doubt who will lead the NBA in aesthetically-pleasing missed field goals. McLemore's shooting stroke is intoxicating, and that held true on a night where he consistently came up well short. He needed to put the ball on the deck much more frequently; if he's not yet comfortable with that aspect of his game, then there's no time to waste in getting more comfortable. Using his physical tools and the threat of his jumpshot to get to the free-throw line will be a key determining factor in his career arc.
It will be interesting to see whether he's able to put his slow start behind him as he goes forward the rest of the week.
Otto Porter, Wizards
If there was one 2013 lottery guy whose game probably wasn't going to flourish in Vegas, it was bound to be Porter. McCollum, McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad and even Zeller entered Summer League with expectations of major production; how does a polished, intelligent player whose reputation revolves around his ability to do the little things stand out in a fairly selfish and cutthroat setting?
The first-glance answer to that question: he doesn't. Porter finished with seven points (on 3-for-13 shooting) and six rebounds in a loss to the Warriors. Really, he got eaten up by Kent Bazemore, who got into his body on the defensive end and generally kept him from finding a comfort zone. Porter wasn't able to match that intensity level or bring sufficient physicality in response. The immediate impression is that a full-time starting role is probably not a realistic expectation in 2013-14, especially with Martell Webster back in the fold. That said, there's no reason to rush to judgment quite yet.
Frankly, it was nice to see Rivers find some success on a basketball court. It feels like it's been a long time. Rivers had a game-high 24 points against the Knicks, and he consistently found paths to the basket off the dribble. His rookie year numbers weren't pretty, there's no sugarcoating that, but he's setting up nicely for a more manageable second season. With Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans all in the fold, Rivers' role will necessarily be narrowed and the weight on his shoulder lessened, and that should inspire some confidence that was lacking for much of last year. The ball-handling and scorer's instincts that made him a highly-touted high school prospect and a 2012 lottery pick are still there.
Waiters should offer to pick up McLemore's dinner tab, as the rookie's tough outing made everyone forget that the 2012 draft's No. 4 pick went 1-for-11 in the Cavaliers' win over the Lakers on Friday. Some players naturally understand the importance of shot selection; others develop that understanding over time; still others actively resist the notion that there is such thing as a bad shot. Waiters looked to be in that last category on Friday, and maybe that's understandable considering this is his second go-around in Vegas. After shooting 41.2 percent last year, one would think he would have entered Summer League with a chip on his shoulder, looking to demonstrate his superiority against this level of competition and answer the questions about his ability to score efficiently.
The Clippers seem to be the consensus winners of the summer thanks to the re-signings of Chris Paul and Matt Barnes coupled with the additions of JJ Redick, Jared Dudley and Darren Collison. As if those five -- and Jamal Crawford -- didn't offer enough perimeter firepower, enter Bullock, who looked as NBA-ready as any other rookie in his debut. Drawing chants of "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" from Clippers fans, Bullock scored 18 points and grabbed three rebounds in a win over the Hawks, showing a controlled, active offensive game while making play after play (three blocks and a steal) on the other end.
Kent Bazemore, Warriors
What more can this guy do to become the ideal NBA cult hero? He cheers harder from the bench than virtually everyone in the NBA (look out, Patty Mills), he has a unique haircut and a fan-friendly personality, and he played absolutely ferocious against the Wizards, locking up Porter on one end while leading all scorers with 21 points on the other. There's a large Warriors contingent in the house and Bazemore is single-handedly making sure they return to the Bay as happy campers.
Lucas Nogueira, Hawks
The 20-year-old Brazilian center is all Afro and wingspan, and he's a joy to watch, even if he's far from the type of rim-protecting presence he should be given his measurements. Whether or not he is able to add extra weight and strength in the future, Nogueria, a 2013 first-round pick who played professionally in Spain last season, flashed some nice in-air finishing ability against the Clippers. He finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, and threw down a number of lob dunks that would sail over just about everyone not named JaVale McGee. He was bullied and bumped from his spot quite often, a problem that will only get way worse against NBA-caliber bigs, but his highlights drew some gasps and cheers.
Kendall Marshall, SunsGoran Dragic Eric Bledsoe